Morgan Keegan Settles Fraud Charges for $200 Million
The SEC, state regulators, and FINRA have announced today that Morgan Keegan & Co. and an affiliate have agreed to pay $200 million to settle fraud charges related to subprime mortgage-backed securities. Two Morgan Keegan employees also agreed to pay penalties for their misconduct,
The SEC’s order settling the charges finds that Morgan Keegan failed to employ reasonable pricing procedures and consequently did not calculate accurate “net asset values” for the funds. Morgan Keegan nevertheless published the inaccurate daily NAVs and sold shares to investors based on the inflated prices.
The SEC’s order finds that James Kelsoe, Morgan Keegan’s former portfolio manager, instructed Morgan Keegan’s fund accounting department to make arbitrary “price adjustments” to the fair values of certain portfolio securities. The price adjustments ignored lower values for those same securities provided by outside broker-dealers as part of the pricing process, and often lacked a reasonable basis. In some instances, when price information was received that was substantially lower than current portfolio values, fund accounting personnel acted at the direction of Kelsoe and lowered values of bonds over a period of days in a series of pre-planned reductions to values at or closer to the price confirmations. As a result, during the interim days, Morgan Keegan did not price those bonds at their current fair value.
The SEC’s order further finds that Kelsoe screened and influenced the price confirmations obtained from at least one broker-dealer. Among other things, the broker-dealer was induced to provide interim price confirmations that were lower than the values at which the funds were valuing certain bonds, but higher than the initial confirmations that the broker-dealer had intended to provide. The interim price confirmations enabled the funds to avoid marking down the value of securities to reflect current fair value. In some instances, Kelsoe induced the broker-dealer to withhold price confirmations where those price confirmations would have been significantly lower than the funds’ current valuations of the relevant bonds.
Under the settlement, Morgan Keegan is required to pay $25 million in disgorgement and interest and a $75 million penalty to the SEC to be placed into a Fair Fund for the benefit of investors harmed by the violations. Morgan Keegan will pay $100 million into a state fund that also will be distributed to investors. The firms are additionally required to abstain from involvement in valuing fair valued securities on behalf of investment companies for three years. Kelsoe agreed to pay $500,000 in penalties and be barred from the securities industry by the SEC, and Joseph Weller agreed to pay a penalty of $50,000.
Adam T. Rabin
Rabin Kammerer Johnson